Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Verbing weirds language


Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson - January 25, 1993

I've had enough of this. Even if dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster have conceded defeat, I stand my ground: "access" is not a verb. Neither is "leverage."

"Access" is a noun. It's a thing. "Do you have access to the bear pit?"

Soul-sucking: Let me access that file.
Better: Let me get/find/fetch/look up/obtain that file.


"Leverage," too, is a noun. The suffix -age is a good indication of this. Leverage is the the term for the mechanical advantage gained by using a lever, such as Archimedes proposed to apply to the earth if given a place to stand. The verb referring to the use of a lever to pry or otherwise apply a force is, perhaps confusingly, also "lever."

Soul-sucking: We should leverage this new technology in building our robot army.
Better: We should exploit/take advantage of/apply this new technology in building our robot army.

Before anyone calls me out on this, yes, I enjoy verbing words when speaking or writing informally - but I do this only when I know my audience will understand and find it amusing. This isn't about English snobbery - it's about speaking precisely and making oneself clearly understood.

Also, programmers take note: the opposite of "stateless" (as in "HTTP is a stateless protocol") is not "stateful." "Stateful" is a adjective describing, for example, an event replete with pomp: "The representative of the Crab People was greeted with a stateful reception." The opposite of "stateless" is persistent. That is, the state of the transaction persists between sessions.

Soul-sucking: HTTP is a stateless protocol. My proposed method is stateful.*
Better: HTTP is a stateless protocol. My proposed method is persistent.

* This, however, would be acceptable if your proposed method were full of pomp and vainglory.

More on the death of language to come.

1 comment:

Sadie said...

Thanks for writing this.